IN THE FALL OF 1988 I WAS CORNERED BY THREE REBEL STUDENTS AT SCI-ARC THAT WANTED TO DO HOMELESS HOUSING IN PUBLIC AREAS. THE IDEA OF INSTANT HOUSING TO BRING ATTENTION OF THE PLIGHT OF THE HOMELESS. I WAS ALL UP FOR IT, AND WE PUT A STUDIO TOGETHER TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. ONE STUDENT INSTANTLY BUILT A RATHER CRUDE STRUCTURE AND PUT IT NEAR SOME TYPE OF INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. BY THE TIME OUR CLASS CAME OUT TO SEE IT, IT HAD ALREADY BEEN DEMOLISHED BY OWNERS OF THE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, EVEN THOUGH IT WAS NOT ON THEIR PROPERTY. ANOTHER STUDENT WANTED TO LIVE AS A HOMELESS ON LA CIENEGA RESTAURANT ROW IN BEVERLY HILLS. SHE WENT THERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT TO DO SO. I DISCOURAGED HER TO CONTINUE. THESE BOTH WERE FORMS OF SQUATTING.
I BECAME HEAVY HANDED AND GAVE THE CLASS THE ASSIGNMENT OF WORKING WITH AN 8′ CUBE. TO MAKE HOUSING SCHEMES . THE MORE REBELLIOUS STUDENTS FOUND THIS RESTRICTING AND DID THEIR OWN THING, BUT THE MAJORITY OF THE CLASS GOT WITH THE IDEA. I WAS INFLUENCED BY MY FRIEND DONALD MCDONALD ARCHITECT IN SAN FRANCISCO THAT BUILT A MODULAR BOX 4’X 4′ X 8′ FOR $500 AND GAVE THEM TO A COUPLE OF HOMELESS TO LIVE IN.
AT THIS TIME THERE WAS A LIBERAL CITY GOVERNMENT IN SANTA MONICA INCLUDING COUNCIL, MAYOR AND CITY ATTORNEY. THEY FED THE HOMELESS EVERY NIGHT ON THE LAWN IN FRONT OF THE CITY HALL. THE HOMELESS WERE SLEEPING IN THE PARKS AND DOORWAYS IN CONSIDERABLE NUMBERS.
WE FOUND POTENTIAL CITY OWNED SITES TO ERECT TEMPORARY VILLAGES. EACH STUDENT DESIGNED THEIR OWN APPROACH. I ASKED FOR A SYSTEM THAT ALLOWED FOR GROUP CONCENTRATION.
WE INTERVIEWED THE HOMELESS, CARE FACILITIES, AND DID THE RESEARCH.
WE EVENTUALLY HAD TO SELECT ONE SCHEME AND BUILD IT AS A PROTOTYPE, BUT ALL THE INDIVIDUAL STUDENT APPROACHES MADE SENSE.
TWO SCHEMES USED THE BOXES AS ADVERTISING TO GENERATE MONEY. OTHERS CREATED COVERED COMMON SPACE.
BESIDES THE BOX FOR SLEEPING, THERE WERE BOXES FOR FOR A BATHROOM AND KITCHEN TO BE SHARED.
THE CRIT ON THE PITCH TO USE THE MODULARS AS A FORM OF SIGNBOARD FOR ADVERTISING TO GENERATE MONEY WAS SLAMMED FOR NO DIGNITY. WHAT A SHAM OF HYPOCRISY.
MAKING COMMON SPACE
MAKING IT A SWEET COMPLEX, EVEN ORANGE COUNTY WOULD APPROVE.
THE MATERIAL COST WAS $500 WITH ALL THE MATERIALS FOR ONE BOX , BOUGHT AT HOME DEPOT. THE DESIGN WAS SIMPLE AND COULD BE BUILT BY A SERVICE CLUB IN A DAY. ASSEMBLY LINE CONSTRUCTION WOULD BOOST THE OUTPUT. THE SCHEME WAS 4X4 CORNER POSTS THAT ALLOWED FOR STACKING. 4X8 STANDARD SHEATHING AND DRY WALL. FLOOR, ROOF, AND WALLS SANDWICHED CONSTRUCTION WITH INSULATION. ONE LIGHT BULB HEATED SPACE. WHERE THE ELECTRICAL CAME FROM WAS UP FOR GRABS, BUT THE LATE SAUL GOLDIN WAS THE ELECTRICAL ENGINEER.
INTERIOR WAS SINGLE BED MATTRESS, WARDROBE, STORAGE, DESK, CHAIR. THE FINAL DETAILING WAS MINIMUM, AND COULD HAVE BEEN SOUPED UP, BUT DID THE JOBS.
I COULD LIVE IN ONE. THE INTERIOR POSSIBILITIES ENDLESS.
THE FIRE MARSHALL APPROVED THE STRUCTURE.
THE STUDENTS VOTED AND BUILT AS A CLASS A PROTOTYPE AND SURPRISED ME WITH THEIR GRAPHICS. I ENDED UP HAVING TO BUILD THE STAIRS MYSELF SINCE THERE WAS A CONFLICT OF FINAL WEEK WITH OTHER CLASSES. THE LIFESAVER WAS WELL RECEIVED BY THE HOMELESS, AND IT WAS BROKEN INTO AND USED. OF COURSE OTHERS PREFERRED THE FREEDOM OF PARKS. A MULTIFACETED ISSUE TO ADDRESS.
THE CLASS PRESENTED TO THE CITY COUNCIL. THE CITY ATTORNEY GOT SOLIDLY BEHIND THE PROJECT AND WE SNEAKED IT ONTO THE FRONT LAWN WITH CITY ASSISTANCE. THE CITY COUNCIL TURNED IT DOWN AS A HOUSING OPTION.
ARGUMENTS USED, IT DID NOT DIGNIFY THE HOMELESS, WOULD CREATE SHANTY TOWN PROBLEMS, ETC.
AND YET IN REALITY THE HOMELESS SLEPT EXPOSED TO WEATHER AND PHYSICAL HARM IN PUBLIC SPACES OF DOORWAYS IN BUILDINGS AND IN THE PARKS. HOW DIGNIFIED IS THAT? A SAD STATEMENT OF CONCERN BY HIS FELLOW MAN.
MY READ WAS THAT THIS CHEAP HOUSING WOULD UPSET THE BUBBLE OF THE HOUSING INDUSTRY. FOUR $1000 ( $500 MATERIALS PLUS FOR $500 ASSEMBLY) FOR A LIVING UNIT PLUS A $ 3,000 BATHROOM AND KITCHEN BOX SHARED BY FOUR. FOUR LIVING UNITS COMPLETE FOR $7000 OR 100 LIVING UNITS FOR $175,000. THAT IS INDIVIDUAL AFFORDABLE TEMPORARY HOUSING WITH A COOL ARCHED CEILING.
THE INHABITANTS COULD BE ORGANIZED TO DO UPKEEP ,AND CHECKED AND HELPED BY COMMUNITY SERVICES ALREADY IN PLACE. EACH PERSON WOULD HAVE THEIR SECURED PROTECTED PLACE, A TRANSITION SPACE FOR GETTING ON THEIR FEET .
THE ALTERNATIVE BY GOVERNMENT IS TO SPEND TONS OF MONEY FOR LOW INCOME HOUSING THAT STILL DOES NOT CATER TO THESE SOULS IN THE PARKS AND BY WAYS.
THIS PROJECT IS AS RELEVANT TODAY AS IN 1988, AND CAN BE UPGRADED WITH ALL THE GREEN STUFF.
A HAPPY HOMELESS, IT WORKED FOR HIM
I APOLOGIZE TO THE STUDENTS FOR NOT CALLING OUT INDIVIDUAL CREDITS FOR THEIR PROJECTS, MAYBE SOMEBODY COULD FILL ME IN?
GETTING PRACTICAL, BUT STILL A GOOD LOOK
NOW WE ARE TALKING ARTY STAGE SET FOR LIVING
INTERIOR, NOT DOING IT JUSTICE, MARTHA STEWART WOULD MAKE THIS HOMEY IN FIVE MINUTES.
IN THE LOCAL INDEPENDENT PAPER, MUCH BIGGER THAN SANTA MONICA COULD DEAL WITH.
ON THE WAY OUT, BEFITTING THAT SANTA MONICA PLACE ON LEFT WITH STEEL NETTING SIGNAGE BY FRANK GEHRY, GOT THE AXE RECENTLY TOO.
KATE KEATING OF PORTLAND, FORMERLY A SANTA MONICA RUSTIC CANYON LOG CABIN RESIDENT , MAKES A CASE FOR ACTION WITH HER PROSE:
MY BROTHER AND HIS KEEPER(S)
Who are we,
our brother’s keepers?
Who are the brothers we are supposed to keep?
At exactly the minute the equatorial sun slides behind trees
the meeting adjourns to the 4th roof garden and its welcomed shade
for a light supper of wine or water and abundant tastetreats
served by graceful waitguys and gals.
A small company of men and women who enjoy each others company
stay even as others leave, the evening grows dark and the bar is closed and taken away.
Finally, in the elevator,
the last five or six of us travel with the empty catering bins
down from the roof and into the still-smoldering night.
One friend laughs with me as I opt to walk in one direction which is not in her direction.
“What!” she asks. “Are you afraid of my neighborhood?”
She lives only one block away; I live ten north and four west.
So I choose to walk west on NW Davis rather than north along NW 8th
which adjoins the city-long Park that makes grassy sleeping places for the homeless.
I choose instead to walk west on NW Davis to escape the Park’s tenants
only to know too soon that same-kind tenants sleep in every doorway
on NW Davis
between NW 8th, NW Park Avenue, NW 9th and NW 10th Avenues
which is only a distance of four blocks but as different as …
as different as night and day!
In summer’s long evenings
no one sleeps in daylight in these same doorways when I pass without regard
but now, as sun is less and less each day and dark comes earlier,
the transient has to secure his doorway before someone else lays claim.
They do me no harm
They tuck into cocoons of wretchedness,
their survival for another day achieved …
bothering no one physically
bothering me emotionally.
What brings them to this place in life?
Where do they go to the bathroom?
Where do they wash their feet?
How tormented must they be?
Especially … where do they go to the bathroom?
Sometimes those sleeping are only feet away from those celebrating
at outdoor cafés.
The night hangs onto stifling;
sidewalks melt shoe bottoms.
Kate is sad and hot and angry and …
and does not want to walk all the way home in the hot dark alone again
although once back on NW 10th and in a different world
life looks better:
people stroll with babies, lapping ice creams, holding hands.
The streetcar stop is here or I am there.
It’s all the same.
The reader board shouts,
The next street car that normally comes every ten minutes is away by 30 minutes
There is no option.
I lose myself in moving automatically, empty of thought, block by blazing block,
past landmarks that post-it my pathway
And then I am accosted.
For the first time in Portlandtown
a man rants and raves and asks me questions.
Finally, lost in absence, I am one block from my house.
No one else is on the street
when a man deranged and scabby rants and raves and asks me questions.
(Because I choose to live in the “country”
at the farthest end of Northwest Portland,
until more people move here the streets are deserted at night
when sunlight leaves.)
he yells at me.
At first I am afraid but only for a blink.
“It’s up there,” I say to him, pointing west.
I show him the street car tracks that lead directly to Good Samaritan Hospital.
I tell him where the closest stop is.
I forget to tell him there are no streetcars tonight
but I don’t think he understands a word I say
“They call me Russian!” he says with a Spanish accent,
while his arms flail with a life of their own.
“They call me Cuban!” he says with a Spanish accent
and eyes that know such sorrow.
“Good Sam,” he pleads.
And I turn and walk away.
I turn my back and walk into the beauty of my tidy life,
looking back only once.
I go to a beautiful evening of bathed souls with
polished toes, massaged feet and good shoes.
Those who own the souls that sleep in doorways wear
rancid feet, filthy socks, and taped-together shoes.
The man who needs medical attention either gets it or he doesn’t.
Who are our brothers anyway?